The Electoral Roll
We have a voters roll in Zimbabwe. It has about 6 million names and
addresses on it and runs to many thousands of pages. In one stack it stands
as high as the ceiling. It is about as useful to our fledgling democracy as
waste paper - worse, it is a serious impediment to real democracy in this
part of the world. I have held that view for some time - often at variance
with the views of others in the MDC and I want to explain why.
The theory behind a voters roll is that this enables a given country to
control who has the right to vote and where. However, the very existence of
such a roll opens the door to all sorts of negative aspects and
possibilities. You can deny the vote to those you want to exclude and you
can foster the participation of certain groups at the same time. But it is
not these aspects that bother me even though they have been used here to
subvert democracy and activities are taking place right now, which, if
allowed to stand will prejudice the outcome of any future election in 2005.
My main concern lies in simply in the task of maintaining such a complex
register of names and addresses in a developing country where the majority
has no recognizable address. When a person dies in a developed country, a
strict procedure is followed and this fairly quickly feeds through to a
central registry where their names can be taken off the roll.
In this country that happens in a minority of cases and even then it might
take the personal intervention of a relative to remove the name from the
roll. In most cases the person dies and is buried and because of the cost
and difficulty of following procedures, matters are left at that point with
little or no follow up. So when the voters roll was examined in the late 90'
s by a consultant firm in Harare, funded by the Norwegian Government, they
discovered hundreds of thousands of people on the roll were in fact dead.
If we follow a simple calculation you can see the size of this problem in
respect to the existing roll in Zimbabwe. Our national population is about
11 million at present. At least 53 per cent are below the age when they can
vote (18 years) and that leaves about 5 million people who could possibly be
on the roll. Say that a very good record would be about 85 per cent (and I
do not for one minute think we can get there) then we have a maximum
potential voters roll of 4,4 million. Our roll has 6 million names on it.
Then take the fact that we have about 3 to 4 million people living abroad as
economic and political refugees - they are leaving the country at the rate
of about 1500 a day - all adults of voting age. No record exists of their
departure and if they are registered voters, then they become "ghost voters"
. This makes the likely numbers of "real voters" on the present roll no more
than at most 3 million or half the number on the roll.
In an election it is unlikely that more than about two thirds will turn out
to vote so the potential tally in an election here is likely to be less than
2 million voters. In the presidential election 2,9 million people "cast"
their vote - perhaps as many as nearly a million were simply not there.
Then there are the problems of having a migrant labor economy. Most workers
have their homes in their rural constituency and work hundreds of kilometers
away in a city or on a mine. To vote they must go home and the cost today is
almost prohibitive. In South Africa, they talk of there being nearly 3
million Zimbabwe migrants. How do they vote? They simply cannot if a voter's
roll is used, as voters must cast their ballots in the constituency in which
they are registered or vote by postal ballot
So a voter's roll undermines the basic premise of a democratic system - the
right of all who live permanently in a country to vote for those who govern
them. A system that, ideally, is inclusive rather than exclusive.
So for my money, I support a system, which would allow any Zimbabwean with
current citizenship status or residency, to vote, on a national basis in
support of a specified political Party, which would have put up a policy
basis for its campaign and a list of approved candidates - to be elected by
This would allow all Zimbabweans to vote - both outside the country at
Embassies or by postal ballots and would allow Zimbabweans to vote close to
home and work. The massive structure set up to fabricate a voters roll could
be dismantled and set to work to tidy up births and deaths and citizenship
rights and registration - its much more important that we each have a valid
ID which specifies our rights.
For Zimbabwe to adhere to the SADC norms for elections, the 30 appointed
seats that are currently controlled by the state President would have to go.
This means 150 seats on the common roll. If we were operating a proportional
representation system then there would be no difficulty in arranging this.
All political parties have had difficulty with securing sufficient numbers
of women as candidates and then getting them elected, a proportional
representation system would achieve such a balance at the stroke of a pen.
But perhaps just as important, such a system would undermine the tendency in
Africa to swing from one extreme to another. A first past the post system
carries with it the threat of extreme dominance by one party of any system.
In a free and fair election in Zimbabwe (and we are miles away from such a
goal) the very real danger is that Zanu PF would be either wiped out or
rendered so tiny a force in Parliament that they could not influence events
or make up a significant opposition. Under a proportional representation
system this is unlikely to happen.
We are now just 18 weeks away from the next election. The government has
done little to meet the demand by the MDC that it fulfill its obligations
under the SADC protocols signed in August. In fact it has done just the
opposite - The NGO Bill is in Parliament, the Electoral Act is also in
discussion in Parliament and is a deeply flawed piece of legislation. There
is no sign of any relaxation of media controls or propaganda by the State
controlled media. There has also been no let up in terms of the on going
effort to crush the MDC structures wherever they can be identified.
To meet the deadline we would have to have access to the media and a return
of the Daily News at least 3 to 4 months in advance of any elections. AIPA
and POSA would both have to be repealed and the present restrictions on
voter education and the training and deployment of polling agents would have
to be completely lifted. There is now no time to prepare a new voters roll
and the present one is simply so crocked that it must be scrapped. If we are
to eliminate the 30 appointed seats and accommodate the one-third women
lawmakers rule then we need to negotiate and adopt constitutional reforms
designed to achieve all of this - at least 3 months before any planned
If these things are not achieved then elections are simply out of the
question. Mbeki knows this and so does Mugabe - it is difficult to see how
this agenda can be moved at all without substantial pressure on the latter
by the former.
10th November 2004